Prisons

California Prisons Are COVID Hotbeds Despite Billions Spent On Inmate Health

From Corcoran and Avenal state prisons in the arid Central Valley to historical San Quentin on the San Francisco Bay, California prisons have emerged as raging COVID-19 hot spots, even as the state annually spends more on inmate health care than other big states spend on their entire prison systems.

The new state budget taking effect July 1 authorizes $13.1 billion for California’s 34 prisons, housing 114,000 inmates, more than three times what any other state spends. That sum includes $3.6 billion for medical and dental services and mental health care — roughly what Texas spends to run its entire 140,000-inmate prison system.

And, yet, despite the extraordinary dedication of resources, California prison officials are struggling to contain the COVID outbreaks, let alone prevent them. On March 25, there was just one confirmed COVID-19 case among California’s inmates. Three months later, more than 4,600 inmates have contracted the disease, an

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As COVID Cuts Deadly Path Through Indiana Prisons, Inmates Say Symptoms Ignored

Scottie Edwards died of COVID-19 just weeks before he would have gotten out of the Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana.

Edwards, 73, began showing symptoms of the disease in early April, according to the accounts of three inmates who lived with him in a dormitory. He was short of breath, had chest pain and could barely talk. He was also dizzy, sweaty and throwing up.

Edwards was serving a 40-year sentence for attempting to kill someone in 2001. He would have been released to home detention on May 1 but died on April 13. The next day, the Indiana Department of Correction sent out a statement that indicated Edwards’ symptoms came on suddenly: “The offender, a male over the age of 70, who did not have indications of illness, reported experiencing chest pains and trouble breathing on Monday.”

Edwards’ fellow inmates dispute the statement and say he had been seeking

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Under COVID Cloud, Prisons In Rural America Threaten To Choke Rural Hospitals

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Montana, it spread into the Marias Heritage Center assisted living facility, then flowed into the nearby 21-bed hospital.

Toole County quickly became the state’s hot spot for COVID-19 deaths, with more than four times the infection rate of all other counties and the most recorded deaths in the state. Six of the state’s 16 COVID deaths through Tuesday have occurred here.

But another danger loomed: What if it got into the prison, less than 4 miles away from the hospital and assisted living facility? The county was nearly overwhelmed as it was. Across rural America, prisons and jails sit in places like Toole County that have minimal intensive care unit beds and ventilators and few additional medical resources. Many hospitals there were strained before the pandemic.

This rural, 5,000-person county tucked under the Canadian border might not have seemed like a breeding ground for

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When Prisons Are ‘Petri Dishes,’ Inmates Can’t Guard Against COVID-19, They Say

On April 6, an inmate named Dennis stayed up late at Indiana’s Plainfield Correctional Facility. He wrote to his wife, Lisa, and told her he was scared.

“I can tell you right now, with nearly 100% certainty, that I am going to get this virus,” he wrote. Lisa said Dennis suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which could cause complications if he contracts COVID-19. (KHN agreed to omit their last names because they fear retaliation from prison staff.)

“I just need you to know how sorry I am for not being there … during these scary uncertain times,” Dennis wrote to his wife. He was sent to prison a year ago for theft, driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest. His earliest

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